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Overnight Testing Begins Along SMART Train's New Larkspur Extension

LARKSPUR (KPIX 5) -- It is a relatively short extension for SMART, but a pretty significant leap for regional transit--the North's Bay's commuter rail system is about to reach Larkspur, and neighbors will start hearing it as soon as Friday evening.

"We're hoping we're going to be able to plug it in and be good to go," says SMART Chief Engineer Bill Gamlen. "But you never know how that goes."

The first thing to know about SMART's southernmost segment is that the trip from San Rafael to Larkspur is a pretty short one, just a three mile jog along Highway 101. Much of it runs through light industrial areas, but horn sounds do travel; just ask the folks who live in the hills of San Rafael.

"SMART Train? When the wind blows," said Jeanne Lauren. "You'll hear it or you won't." Lauren says she can hear the trains below in San Rafael, but doesn't mind the normal noise. "So it's pleasant. The testing is someone annoying because it's every five seconds."

"You know, we are operating in areas where we haven't had train service in years and years," Gamlen said of the need for horn use during testing. "So it's important that we condition people to the train operations and get them familiar with the grade crossings."

More construction progress would be good news. Recent months have brought headlines about budget and timeline challenges for the young train system. For SMART leadership, opening the Larkspur segment would be a bit like placing a keystone.

"It's very significant," said Gamlen. "We're very excited to make the connection to the ferry. It gets us that regional connection to San Francisco. We think it's gonna be huge for ridership, it's huge for the whole system."

The overnight testing will last a couple of weeks, then test runs will be added to the regular daily schedule. No opening day is set just yet, but passenger service to Larkspur could begin as soon as early December.

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